Thanks to the rise of superpowered mobile devices and the market's cool response to Nintendo's (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK) Wii U, consoles have begun to look like an endangered species. However, consoles have grown into much more than simple game machines and are unlikely to become extinct any time soon.

The ever-evolving console
Even if I give up my first-person shooters for more casual games -- which is unlikely -- my console will have a place by the television. My Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Xbox 360 does a lot more than the Nintendo Entertainment System of my youth. It plays games -- of both the core and casual variety -- but it also streams movies and TV shows through Netflix and Hulu. I can also rent or purchase videos and music from the Zune Marketplace, listen to last.fm, and stream assorted media from PCs. I have an iPod touch that I often use for gaming, and I've recently gotten hooked on CivWorld -- Take-Two Interactive's (Nasdaq: TTWO) entry into Facebook games -- but I have no plans of abandoning console gaming either

I'm not alone in keeping my console. According to a recent study by NDP, 60% of people who purchase mobile games haven't reduced their spending on consoles. Tablets also don't make much of a difference. A study by Resolve Market Research found that only 14% of Apple iPad owners wouldn't purchase a console after getting their hands on a tablet. Nor do tablets put much pressure on portable consoles. Only 26% of tablet owners said they wouldn't buy one. I find it even more encouraging that both of these numbers dropped a little more than 10% year over year. This makes sense, since consoles provide a different gaming experience from a touchscreen device like a tablet.

What's really happening
It seems that rather than eating into the gaming market, the new gaming platforms actually expand it.  Facebook, smartphones, and, to a lesser extent, the Nintendo Wii have brought gaming to scores of consumers who couldn't be bothered to learn the complex control schemes and gameplay mechanics of the average blockbuster console game. For the first time since Pong hit the scene, there's a real market for simple games.

In this light, Electronic Arts' (Nasdaq: ERTS) purchase of PopCap Games doesn't indicate the impending demise of console gaming. It's a sign that the industry has finally recognized mobile and social gaming as worthwhile markets.

How to play this game
Because the platforms are so new, you'll probably see the biggest growth in mobile and social gaming, but I would place my bets carefully. I don't think Zynga has anything special to offer, but other Fools disagree. I also can't get excited about Glu Mobile (Nasdaq: GLUU). As Fellow Fool Rich Smith notes, the company's revenues have been declining. I don't think it's a tempting buyout target, either, since it can't find any franchises in its current catalog worth owning. Majesco Entertainment (Nasdaq: COOL) has a couple of successful casual franchises in its catalog -- Cooking Mama and Zumba Fitness -- and looks promising, but I'd like to see more specifics on its social-gaming plan before I make a call.

As fellow Fool Anders Bylund has previously noted, the video-game industry is a moving target. Investors should find plenty of opportunities as casual gaming continues to grow, but they shouldn't declare consoles dead just yet.

In the meantime, if you'd like more investment ideas, then take a look at this special free report, 5 Stocks The Motley Fool Owns -- and You Should, Too. In it, you'll find five stock picks the Fool believes in strongly enough to back with our own money. The report is absolutely free. Download it today!

Fool contributor Patrick Martin owns shares of Netflix and Take-Two Interactive. You can follow him on Twitter at @TMFpcmart03. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Take-Two Interactive Software. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, Apple, Take-Two Interactive Software, Microsoft, and Nintendo, buying puts in Netflix, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.